Awards and decorations of the United States Armed Forces
The United States Armed Forces awards and decorations are primarily the medals, service ribbons, and specific badges which recognize military service and personal accomplishments while a member of the U.S. Armed Forces. Such awards are a means to outwardly display the highlights of a service member's career.
Order of precedence
While each service has its own order of precedence, the following general rules typically apply to all services:
- U.S. military personal decorations
- U.S. military unit awards[1a][1b]
- U.S. non-military decorations and awards in the following order: 
- Presidential awards (i.e., Presidential Medal of Freedom, Presidential Citizen's Medal)
- National Medals (i.e., National Security Medal, National Science Medal, Gold Lifesaving Medal, Silver Lifesaving Medal)
- U.S. non-military personal decorations of valor are not authorized
- U.S. non-military campaign, expeditionary and service (CE&S) awards are not authorized
- U.S. military society decorations and medals – military societies covered by Title 10 US Code, §1123 (in order of receipt; if two or more from same society, then the applicable society precedence listing should be consulted)
- (a) A military service member who is a member of a military society originally composed of men who served in an armed force of the United States during the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection, or the Chinese Relief Expedition of 1900 may wear, on occasions of ceremony, the distinctive badges adopted by that society.
- (b) A military service member who is a member of the Army and Navy Union of the United States may wear, on public occasions of ceremony, the distinctive badges adopted by that society.
- State decorations and awards are not authorized when on Federal active duty status
- Federal agency decorations and awards (in order of receipt; if two or more from same agency, then the applicable agency precedence listing should be consulted)
- U.S. non-military unit awards
- U.S. military campaign, expeditionary and service medals
- U.S. military service and training awards (ribbon-only awards)[3a]
- U.S. Merchant Marine awards and non-military service awards
- Foreign military decorations and awards (in order of receipt; if two or more from the same country, the applicable country precedence listing should be consulted)
- Marksmanship awards (Air Force,[3a] Navy & Coast Guard)[3b]
- Awards of non Title 10USC§1123 U.S. military societies and other organizations 6b
- State awards of the National Guard (Army & Air Force only)
Notes on branch-specific exceptions to the above:
- 1a In the Army, unit awards (any type) are worn as a separate grouping, on the right side of the uniform, with and without frames, are worn in the order of precedence from the wearer's right to left.
- 1b In the Navy, unit award ribbons are only worn on the right side of the uniform, when wearing full medals on the left side. Arrange ribbons in order of precedence in rows from top down, inboard to outboard; this reverses the order of ribbons (as compared to when placed inline with other awards on the left side). For U.S. Navy, the USPHS unit awards are considered (military) unit awards. However, if Navy personnel are also awarded USPHS personal decorations (e.g., USPHS Distinguished Service Medal), then the USPHS order of precedence would apply.
- 2 Some awards, despite being ribbon-only, are higher in precedence. The Navy & Coast Guard Combat Action Ribbons and the Coast Guard's Commandant's Letter of Commendation Ribbon are included with personal decorations, while two Air Force ribbon-only awards (the Outstanding Airman of the Year Ribbon & the Air Force Recognition Ribbon) and the Coast Guard Enlisted Person of the Year Ribbon are considered in the same category as service medals.
- 3a Marksmanship Awards in the Air Force are considered training awards. 3b The Army and Marine Corps issue Marksmanship Qualification Badges instead of Marksmanship awards.
- 4 For Navy, Merchant Marine awards are considered U.S. non-military awards.
- 5 The obsolete Philippine Commonwealth service awards (Philippine Defense, Liberation, & Independence Medals), when still listed in the order of precedence, come before the United Nations medals (Army & Marine Corps) or before the Merchant Marine awards (Air Force).
- 6a For Navy, medals and ribbons from other non Title 10USC§1123 military societies, worn in the order earned may be worn after marksmanship awards. Medals, ribbons and badges issued by these societies may be worn only while actually attending meetings or conventions or while participating in parades or other ceremonies as a member of these organizations.
- 6b For Army, no allowance of Title 10USC§1123 military society medals or ribbons is prescribed, in apparent contravention or oversight of Title10USC§1123 and DoDI 1348.33; however, badges of other civic and quasi-military societies of the United States, and international organizations of a military nature may be worn with restrictions. These may include, for example, the Order of St. Barbara of the Field Artillery Association,or the Order of St. Michael of the Army Aviation Association, among others. The badges are worn only while the wearer is actually attending meetings or functions of such organizations, or on occasions of ceremony. Personnel will not wear these badges to and from such meetings or events.
U.S. military, awards currently issued to service members
Order of precedence
Notes: Precedence of particular awards will vary slightly among the different branches of service. All awards and decorations may be awarded to any service member unless otherwise designated by name or notation.
Note: ^ The precedence of the Purple Heart was immediately before the Good Conduct Medals until changed to its current precedence in 1985.
National Guard and State Defense Forces
U.S. military, inactive and obsolete awards
U.S. military personnel having received these awards have participated within these areas of combat / conflict during the time these awards were given to U.S. service members. Such awards have since been discontinued or are no longer applicable in terms of receiving these commendations.
Discontinued or proposed
The following decorations were designed for issuance with an approved medal, but were either never officially approved for presentation or were discontinued before a first award could be made.
Single service awards
Single service awards were official military decorations created as one time awards to recognize a single event. The first such single service award was issued during the Spanish–American War by the Revenue Cutter Service to honor the actions of the vessel USRC Hudson during the Battle of Cárdenas. The last single service award was issued in 1960 when Congress authorized the awarding of the Four Chaplains' Medal recognizing the Four Chaplains who died together during World War II. There have been no single service awards issued since by the U.S. military, mainly due to the decline and complications of awarding commemorative service medals.
Unofficial decorations are those military awards created and issued by local commanders. In most cases, unofficial awards were designed to commemorate a specific battle or engagement of a commander's unit. The most well known unofficial awards were issued during the American Civil War.
After the Civil War, stricter military regulations prohibited local commanders from issuing awards and the practice had fallen into disuse by the 20th century. Even so, the Department of Defense has stated that large numbers of unofficial medals were privately issued to members of the Armed Forces of the United States for many years after the Civil War, mostly to commemorate specific battles, events, or as private veteran memorabilia. One of the more well known is the Walter Reed Medal (recognized today as a Congressional Gold Medal), awarded for exploratory scientific achievement in the field of malaria treatment. While presented as a gold medallion, members of the military were reported to wear a red ribbon on their uniforms to denote the decoration.
Foreign and international awards
Foreign and international decorations are authorized for wear on United States military uniforms by the Department of Defense in accordance with established regulations for the receipt of such awards as outlined by the State Department. In the case of foreign decorations, the awards may be divided into senior service decorations (awarded only to high ranking U.S. officers), heroic decorations for valor, and foreign service decorations.
There are hundreds of foreign and international awards which have been approved for issuance to United States military personnel since World War I, the following being among the more common.
During the First and Second World Wars, the Croix de Guerre medals of France and Belgium, as well as the French Military Medal and Luxembourg War Cross, were further issued as unit citation cords, known as Fourragère. Service members could receive both the individual award and the unit cord; in the case of the later, the unit citation could either be worn temporarily while a member of the unit or permanently if the service member was present during the actual battle which warranted the unit citation. A further unit citation cord of the Order of William of the Netherlands was also issued during World War II, and was far more commonly known as the "Orange Lanyard".
As of 2002, South Korea has again issued the Korean Presidential Unit Citation to certain units of the United States Marine Corps, thus placing this previously obsolete foreign award back on the active order of precedence for U.S. decorations. Apart from this one decoration, most 21st century foreign military awards are reserved for only the most senior flag and general officers and then only presented as "end of tour" decorations upon transfer from a major command.
- To display devices on Wikipedia pages, use Template:Ribbon devices.
- Awards and decorations of the United States government
- Merchant Marine
- Awards and decorations of the Public Health Service
- Awards and decorations of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
- Civilian decorations of the United States
- Awards and decorations of the National Guard
- Awards and decorations of the State Defense Forces
- Military decorations of the Cold War
- United States military award devices
- Military badges of the United States
- Unofficial combat badges of the United States Army
- List of military decorations
- State decoration
- Army-Navy ‘E’ Award
- Marine uniform regulations section 5103, subsection 12, page 5-9
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- OPNAVINST 3591.1F, SMALL ARMS TRAINING AND QUALIFICATION Archived 22 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine, Chief of Naval Operations, dated 12 August 2009, last accessed 5 May 2013
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- U.S. Coast Guard Uniform Regulations, dated March 2012, last accessed 5 May 2013
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- Decorations and Medals - Ribbons - Order of Precedence at the Institute of Heraldry website
- U.S. Army Symbols and Insignia
- The Institute of Heraldry, U.S. Army
- U.S. Navy Service and Campaign Medals
- Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia (in PDF format)
- Military Awards (U.S. Army) (in PDF format)
- SGM (USA, Ret.) Gregory A. Noller (1995). "ADVA Army Awards". Americal Division Veterans Association. Archived from the original on 1 January 2012.